Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Remember Her?

     She is a first cousin to 90-year-old Shimon Perez. She is 89, lives in New York City, and was recently in the news.

     Shimon Perez was born Szymon Perski in Poland in August 1923. He moved to Palestine with his family in the 1930s, and became a leading Israeli statesman, serving as Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister, and since 2007 as President of Israel.

     She was born Betty Joan Perske in The Bronx, NY, in September 1924. Her mother, Natalie, came from Romania. Her father was born in New Jersey, to parents who'd immigrated from Poland. She was an only child. Her father turned out to be an alcoholic, and her parents divorced when she was only five years old. Afterwards she lived with her mother and took her name.

     She went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the oldest acting school in America. She got a job as a theater usher, and began to work as a fashion model. She won an opportunity, with a friend of hers, to meet her idol Bette Davis, and at age 17 she made her acting debut on Broadway with a walk-on role.

     Her picture was spotted in a woman's magazine, so the story goes, by the wife of movie director Howard Hawkes. She urged him to give the model an audition for his next project, the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. Hawkes asked his secretary to find out more about the young woman. The secretary misunderstood the request, and instead sent her a ticket to Los Angles for an audition. Hawkes saw her in Hollywood, and signed her to a seven year contract.

     Hawkes's wife took the 19-year-old ingenue under her wing, dressing her stylishly and teaching her the Hollywood ropes. During screen tests for To Have and Have Not, she was nervous, and she pressed her chin against her chest to keep from shaking. Then just as the cameras rolled she'd look up and tilt her eyes up to face the camera. The effect became known as "The Look" and became her trademark.

     Have you guessed who she is yet? She went on to star with Humphrey Bogart, and even though he was married at the time, and he was 25 years her senior, the two of them fell in love. They were married in 1945 -- she was Bogart's fourth wife -- and remained married until Bogart's death.

     In 1945 she also made a trip to Washington, D.C. and got her picture taken sitting on the piano with then-vice president Harry Truman. The photos made a splash, creating headlines literally around the world.

     After To Have and Have Not (1944) she played opposite Charles Boyer in Confidential Agent (1945), then again with Bogart in several film noir movies: The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).

     In the 1950s the star (she's Lauren Bacall, in case you haven't figured it out yet; Bacall was her mother's name) expanded her repertoire to other roles, including comedy opposite Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and opposite Gregory Peck in Designing Woman (1957). She also did a TV adaptation of The Petrified Forest, co-starring husband Humphrey Bogart, along with Henry Fonda and Jack Klugman.

     Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart had two children together, before his death from cancer in 1957. Afterwards, Bacall began seeing Frank Sinatra, and then in 1961 she went on to marry Jason Robards. They had one son, and got divorced in 1969, reportedly because Robards was an alcoholic.

     In the 1960s she curtailed her career, turning down scripts, acting in only a few movies, although she did appear on Broadway several times and won two Tony awards.

     Bacall also garnered a number of film awards, and in 1999 was voted one of the 25 most significant female movie stars in history by the American Film Institute. But she never won an Oscar, until 2009 when she was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for "her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures."

     Throughout her life, Lauren Bacall has been active in various political causes. She campaigned for Adlai Stevenson, was a staunch opponent of McCarthyism, and later campaigned for the Kennedys. However, despite her liberal views, she was friends with the conservative John Wayne, with whom she'd costarred in two movies. She also wrote two memoirs Lauren Bacall: By Myself (1978) and Now (1994), and did an update in 2010 called By Myself and Then Some.

     So how has she been in the news lately? A Chicago law firm wrote a memo to female staff members, encouraging women to dress modestly, telling them not to giggle or squirm, advising them to keep their voice low -- to "think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe." The memo got out to the public, was criticized as sexist and lampooned on several websites.

     Nevertheless, despite the memo's cluelessness, I think the advice would be taken as a compliment to the incomparable Lauren Bacall. Don't you?



DJan said...

I have always enjoyed her movies and political activism. She's a class act, in my opinion, so yeah, it would be a compliment! :-)

Stephen Hayes said...

She and Bogie did much to combat McCarthyism, and she was a fine actress to boot.

Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas said...

Ah yes, "the Golden Age of motion pictures", clearly acknowledging that they just don't make `em like they used to. And explaining why I watch a lot of TCM.

Anonymous said...

I love her dearly. Thanks for the background info. Now I think I should have read her bio, which is advertised on your site, BTW. Dianne

PS You can whistle, can't you?

Olga said...

I would prefer to be like Lauren Bacall myself, but I guess i wouldn't want to be ordered to>

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, most of us are all too good at judging others by how they speak and dress. Were we not, such advice would be unnecessary. At that, the advice would be better given by a friend. It's a ticklish situation, counseling employees how to dress and act so as to give the "correct" impression to clients. Been there, done that!
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